On the surface there is not and player on the academies that should even be on the same field as the Irish. This is most evident along the defensive line. Averaging out at a svelte 250lbs, the Air Force front 7 should be no problem for the front 5 of the Irish, who average out at 305lbs. On paper, the matchup is Irish by 50 in a 500 yard rushing effort. The smaller academies try to equalize with stunts, blitzes, and slanting gaps.
Movement by the defensive line will cause headaches for the Irish and their zone running game. The Irish must become the disciplined group while Air Force plays a moving gap-filling defense. The Academy will be slanting their linemen across gaps to the strength and filling linebackers into the unsecured gaps. This makes it hard to get a pre-snap read on the defense. Notre Dame must react on the fly to the Falcon pressure. Air Force will do a lot of cross blitzing with the linebackers to try to get a body free to chase down the run or sack Tommy Rees.
With the Offensive Line no longer being an albatross around the offense’s neck, I expect the Irish to come out and smash Air Force in the mouth. The big guys up front have shown they can move people and protect the QB. Air Force will have to bring their safety in the box and play the run, leaving them susceptible in the passing game. I expect the Irish to come out with a heavy running game package and sprinkle in play action and passes deep to Michael Floyd.
In the trenches is where the game will be won and lost. It always ends up being won or lost there. The Irish have the size and the experience to dominate, but Air Force, like Navy, will hang around because of the defense they run. They will create problems with misdirection and movement, but the Irish will handle them because of superior size and experience. Air Force can try, but this year their front 7 just won’t stack up.
Air Force makes it equally if not tougher on our defense. They are very disciplined and use the cut block to perfection. The Irish must maintain gap responsibility at all times. Where it becomes tough is on the safeties. They are the guys that will have all the tackles if Air Force executes their offense to perfection. We might not see a whole lot of Aaron Lynch or the younger guys because of the overriding need for gap responsibility. Aaron Lynch is effective on 3rd down or obvious passing downs because the coaches tell him to pin his ears back and rush the passer. Against Air Force, he will have to hold his gap and try to play off the block.
Cut Blocking is the great equalizer against a bigger, stronger defensive line. Our guys will be anticipating cut and chop blocks and this will take away the D-Line's aggressiveness. Disciplined and smart defense will be the difference against an offense that exploits aggressiveness. We should shut them down with Louis Nix occupying 3 gaps.
- Sean "Huge Man" Milligan
Editors Note: Lest anyone suffers from amnesia or steadfastly refuses to remember with any fondness the Willingham Era, Milligan was voted "Best Dressed Lineman" in the nation by Kirk Herbstreit, an honor Sean wishes he could frame in his bedroom.